Shiv Viswanathan | Indian Express
Sometimes politics is a photo opportunity. There is something so poignant about a picture that it intrigues a nation, creates a mystique around a movement. Two movements in recent times reminded one of this process, showing the gap between peoples protest and peoples power.
Take Khandwa. For a few days, one witnessed the heroism and the desperation of the Narmada struggle again. Desperation is the mother of invention. The Narmada waters had already submerged the land, when the villagers decided to offer jal satyagraha. Khandwa became a metaphor for desperation and courage, the last ditch battle of a small group of forgotten people. For fifteen days, they lay immersed in the water while a nation went on obliviously.
An occasional soak might be therapeutic, but to be immersed for a fortnight in murkiness, with snakes, while water seeds fungus on the feet and the eyes turn desperate and tired, captured the desperation of a marginal people. Media and social movement met in serendipity and a metaphor was born. Satyagraha proved its momentary inventiveness over the state. What haunted one were the faces signalling the tragedy of development in India. At Koodankulam, fishermen offered satyagraha in the sea, insisting on immersing themselves till the state responded. There was something almost religious and festival-like as the movement turned towards the sea. Suddenly the message of Koodankulam became clearer. This was the sea reprimanding the land for corroding nature. It was not numbers that counted. Nine fishing villages can hardly match the might of the state. The protestors at Khandwa and Koodankulam used their bodies to challenge the indifference of the body politic. It was like an echo of the Dandi march, only the colonial
State was replaced by the nation state.
There is one caveat however. Peoples’ protest, no matter how innovative, is still a process. Minor victories and media attention do not make it people’s power. Yet civil society has always been more inventive than the state. Desperation and survival demand it. All these movements have is the courage of struggle and the desperation of invention. They still measure success in pipettes, but they have the intelligence, the imagination and the courage to continue. They will still survive the idiocy and obduracy of that great juggernaut we call the Indian state.